Tuesday 10 January 2012

Obscurity Files - Moon 44

From Roland Emmerich, the director of Godzilla and Independence Day, Moon 44 is the 1990 sci-fi adventure that rivals Top Gun for pure brainless machismo. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

In the year 2038 the world is run by huge conglomerates that make their money from galactic mining operations scattered around the galaxy. When Moon 44's operation is threatened by a rival company and no-one is prepared to run it, they hire a group of convicts, seeing them as a calculated loss should the operation fail. To keep the mission in check, they send agent Felix Stone (Michael Pare), an internal affairs officer going undercover as a fighter pilot to protect the base.

Made in 1990 amidst obvious budgetary constraints, there's something admirably old school about its approach to world building, relying on good model work, production design and a fair amount of dim lighting to achieve a believably grim atmosphere. Looking awfully familiar, if you were to tell me that these sets were leftovers from Aliens, I wouldn't be surprised. Of course, nowadays we consider Emmerich to be a director a big budget blockbusters (of dubious quality, I might add), but everyone's got to start somewhere, and this early effort manages to rank higher in quality than some of his more recent films.

Set in a grubby looking future that wouldn't look amiss in Ridley Scott's filmography, it's essentially Top Gun meets Aliens with enough dick swinging to rival both films put together. With its gigantic mining vessels travelling through space, it's easy to liken it to the Alien franchise. There may not be a Xenomorph in sight, but this could easily be the Weyland-Yutani corporation they're working for. Hey, if Ridley Scott can base Prometheus in the same universe as Alien, why not someone else, right?

As well as Malcolm McDowell as the obvious villain we have the Arnie-alike Brian Thompson (recognisable as one of the punks Arnie attacks at the start of The Terminator alongside Bill Paxton), future Emmerich producer Dean Devlin and Fright Night's Stephen Geoffreys as two of the pilot's navigators. Geoffreys is a lot of fun as Cookie the drug dealing navigator, channeling equal parts Evil Ed and Brad Dourif in his second to last role before he bizarrely quit acting to go into gay porn.

There's some basic logic flaws in the film (Who are they fighting? How does a helicopter work on a moon's atmosphere?), but what the film is lacking most is a charismatic lead, Michael Pare's I.A. officer being a near mute for most of the film. Without a good guy to cling on to, you find yourself rooting for the bad guys, Brian Thompson's beefcake serving up plenty of scenes of butch machismo. It's easy to forget what Pare's meant to be doing on the moon, or often even that he's there. In fact, so unimportant is his role in the film that recent DVD's have omitted his name from the cover entirely, instead opting to promote Malcolm McDowell as the star, although his role is really no more than a cameo.

It's a shame that the film hasn't been treated better on DVD, as the copy I saw had one of the worst packages I've ever seen put together. Over a hastily captured screen grab from the film we have the obligatory interactive menus that offer you the helpful option to 'play movie'. Yeah, thanks for that. The cover's also littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. Did you know this film was brought to you from the producer of "Independance Day"? It's worth noting that even on the slightly better Malcolm McDowell starring cover, they've still failed to spell one of Emmerich's films correctly, missing the thematically crucial "The Day After" part from "The Day After Tomorrow". The DVD's have also continued to feature the nonsensical tagline "In the outer zone... you need a friend", which by my reckoning really doesn't sum up a bitter space war between galactic fighter pilots.

Having never heard of this film from a director with a reasonably high profile, I made the easy assumption that it was going to be bad; perhaps one for Emmerich super fans only (if such a thing exists). I comfortably let the film sit on my 'to watch' pile for over a year before finally deciding to give it a go, pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I suppose the moral of the story is never judge a bargain bin DVD by its cover, or at least be willing to ignore a few spelling mistakes. Moon 44 also has some cultural significance by being the film that introduced Roland Emmerich to Dean Devlin, at the time a jobbing actor and wannabe scriptwriter, nowadays known as the producer of Emmerich's hits Godzilla, Stargate and Universal Soldier. No Moon 44, no Independence Day, it's as simple as that; and can you imagine a world without Will Smith saving us from Aliens?

Derided upon release for taking liberally from other sci-fi films, sure it's derivative (extremely so, in fact), but Moon 44 is also a very watchable and admirably over the top piece of science fiction and fully deserves its status as a cult classic.

Save from obscurity? Yes.

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